From the Braver Institute
I have a photo of my daughters riding on the kiddie coaster at the state fair a few years back. The total circumference of the track could not have been more than fifty feet, and its highest point was probably six feet above the ground. Not exactly a scary ride. Actually, it was a ride of joy and happiness judging by the faces of the kids on the ride—except for one. My youngest daughter had the kind of smile on her face that you would expect a kid to have on such a ride, but the look of her older sister sitting next to her was that of absolute terror. If you listen, you can hear her screaming in the photo.
It’s hard not to laugh when you see the photo but I have to feel sorry for her at the same time, and I can’t help but think that I would have done the same thing at her age. She apparently takes after her old man.
Last week Ma Braver, my sister Badger Annie, and I took my daughters to Cedar Point, a well known amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.
As we were travelling to the park I was reminded of the last time I was there, which was in the late 70s.
Cedar Point had two record breaking coasters; one was the Blue Streak, which was the biggest, or the longest (I can’t remember which) roller coaster in the world, and the other was a new coaster called the Gemini. The Gemini was the tallest, fastest, steepest roller coaster on the planet, and there was no way you could ever get me to go on the thing.
At no time in my life have roller coasters had any appeal to me. The idea of riding a little cart into the stratosphere, plummeting in a meteoric freefall back to earth, and then repeating the process for what would feel like an eternity, scares me to death. When it comes to thrill rides, I am a giant wuss.
In my mind I believed that I could ride that monster, but in reality I was frozen in terror just looking at the beast.
Thirty-some years later I still hadn’t ridden it.
As we pulled up to the park I asked the Badger where the Blue Streak was. She pointed to a group of trees and said “there.” This 78-foot-tall giant of a coaster was now dwarfed by the trees around it, let alone the numerous other coasters with names like You Are Going To Die, and Super You Are Going To Die Even Faster.
It turns out that there are at least four coasters in the park that are easily twice the height of the Blue Streak now. One of them is 420 feet tall and moves at speeds of around 120 miles per hour. I am sure that it is called Death Plummet 5000 or something like that.
And the mighty Gemini was starting to look like the kiddie coaster at the state fair, but in my mind it was still the deadliest roller coaster in the world.
My youngest daughter came up to me and asked if I was going to ride a roller coaster. I told her that I didn’t think so. She told me that she had already ridden one with Auntie Badger, who happens to love roller coasters. “We just got here!” I said, “How did you have time to ride a coaster?” I realized then that I had been frozen in terror for the past hour and a half, and time had stood still for me. She teased me that she rode a roller coaster before I did. She’s 10 years old and fearless. I, on the other hand, have instincts for survival, and those instincts tell me to keep away from things that will kill me.
My eldest daughter started to express some slight interest in riding a coaster. I was afraid of this. There was a real possibility that the kid who was screaming her brains out in the photo was now braver than I.
While Ma Braver had my girls busy with some other ride, I told the Badger that I needed to ride a coaster NOW, but it couldn’t be a scary one. She said the Iron Dragon was the place to start. She said it was the smoothest, least scary ride in the park. I reluctantly agreed to let her take me there.
As I bravely walked past all of the “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE” warning signs I couldn’t help but think of how my roller coaster death would happen. Would I be thrown from the car as it screamed around a corner? Would the car derail on a descent and crash into the ground? Would I simply have a heart attack?
Once in line I realized that there was no turning back. Even though I had a death grip on the handrails and my toes dug into the concrete like claws, the force of all of the children in the line behind me kept pushing me forward. They kept yelling, “STOP CRYING AND GET MOVING OLD MAN.”
The ride was more terrifying than I had ever imagined. I couldn’t stop myself from screaming. The Badger looked over at me and told me to shut up because everyone was staring at us. It would seem that the coaster hadn’t actually started moving yet; the attendant had merely lowered the safety bar over my shoulders.
I don’t remember anything after that because I passed out.
Just kidding. I didn’t pass out, but I wanted to. As we climbed the first hill, the Badger had a sadistic grin on her face. It was then that I knew the Iron Dragon was not the tamest coaster in the park.
At my funeral the next day ...
Just kidding, again.
When it all was over I was still alive. I couldn’t believe it. I was ready to take on anything. I told the Badger that I was now ready to take on the biggest, baddest coaster the world had to offer, as long as that world was the world of 1978.
I rode the Gemini.
— — —
Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org/ Visit the Braver Institute at www.braverinsitute.com